Saturday, October 6, 2007

Dear Lake Oswego Buyers: It’s Time.

I’ve never considered it part of my job description as a buyer’s agent to talk anyone in to anything. My job is to advise: to interpret needs and wants of every client, to find the homes that fit those needs, to negotiate an equitable and binding sales agreement, then to see the process through to closing. I don’t think I’ve ever had to manipulate someone into making a buying decision he or she was clearly not ready to make.

But in the last year or so indecision has evolved into an art form. There are certainly some legitimate reasons: Inventories have been rising, sellers have been reticent to price realistically, and every day brings a new round of “Housing Market DOOOOOOOOMMED!” headlines, understandably driving buyers to the sidelines until some sense can be made out of the mortgage sub-prime /liquidity /standards /foreclosure mess. That, of course, exacerbates another round of headlines, leading people like CNBC’s Jim Cramer – a buffoon who, as Greg Swann points out, screams for a living on cable TV – to declare on the Today show last week: “Don’t you dare buy a home now. You’ll lose money.” He did amend that the following day on CNBC, exempting Seattle as the one area where prices aren’t dropping, his fact checkers not digging quite enough to know the same is true of Portland and a high percentage of the Pacific Northwest. [I’m not sure that mattered much; more people read BHB on a given day than tune in to that particular network.] It's a barely meaningful statistic anyway: because LO showed last month a 6.3% appreciation does not mean an individual home will sell for 6.3% more than it did a year ago - it emphatically won't - nor does it mean that in a market where there's a 6.3% depreciation that a home will sell for 6.3% less. There are simply too many variables.

So in keeping with the all real estate is local axiom, there’s a temper shift emerging in Lake Oswego, the local market with which I’m most familiar. [Thus: it may be true of the broader Portland Metro market as well; I haven't run the numbers.] Here’s what I see:

1. Inventories are down from thirty days ago, after a steady and dramatic rise over the last nearly two years. I’d love to say that’s because of sales – it’s not; September sales were down over 30% compared to September 2006. It’s because fewer listings are coming on the market, listings are expiring and not being relisted, or listings are being canceled or withdrawn. Those are the sellers who don’t have to sell immediately or who have decided to enter the rental market, sellers who on average kept their prices artificially high.

2. Many of the remaining sellers are motivated, moreso than ever. Sellers in large part have listened to their agents and had their homes put in turnkey condition with necessary repairs and upgrades. Now they’re further motivated by wanting to sell before the winter doldrums; list prices are dropping rapidly. Buyers are finding very, very nice homes at very, very attractive prices.

3. There’s still a lot from which to choose: As of yesterday there were 100 single family homes listed for under $500k [Note to those reading from outside the area: median price in LO is nearly $500k]; 205 between $500k and $1m; and 126 over $1m. And note only a very small percentage are selling for full list price.

4. The mortgage liquidity crisis is about over, and rates remain at historic lows. This does not mean we’ll return to the days when to get hundred percent financing all you had to do is prove you could breathe, but if you have good credit and 20% down you can own the market. [Obviously there are still many loan products available for individual circumstances; consult a mortgage professional.]

Final thought: all these reasons triple if you’re looking to buy a home to live in for five years or more, to raise a family or retire, rather than simply looking at it as an investment.

A home is, after all, first and foremost a home.

Jim Cramer notwithstanding.